Phil Kessel signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday.
The 34-year-old forward was an unrestricted free agent. He had 52 points (eight goals, 44 assists) in 82 games for the Arizona Coyotes last season.
“I’m excited,” Kessel said Thursday. “Obviously it’s a great organization, a great team, a winning place. When you get a chance to play on a good team that wants to win, you’re always looking forward to it.
“I’m very motivated to come in here and help this team try to contend. I’m very motivated and I think I’m going to have a great year.”
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The Golden Knights were tied for 12th in the NHL last season at 3.20 goals per game. During the offseason they traded two of their top four goal-scorers, forwards Evgenii Dadonov (20) to the Montreal Canadiens and forward Max Pacioretty (19) to the Carolina Hurricanes.
“Over the course of the offseason we’ve been looking to add a veteran forward,” Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. “We’ve had conversations with Phil for a while now, and felt from our perspective it was a great fit and I think Phil felt the same.”
Selected by the Boston Bruins with the No. 5 pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, Kessel has 956 points (399 goals, 557 assists) in 1,204 regular-season games for the Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Bruins. He has 81 points (34 goals, 47 assists) in 96 Stanley Cup Playoff games and helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017.
Kessel has played 982 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in NHL history behind Keith Yandle (989). He can match Yandle’s mark at home against the Maple Leafs on Oct. 24, and passed him the next night at the San Jose Sharks.
“He’s a guy that brings playmaking ability so he’s going to upgrade our power play,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “He’s got Stanley Cup championship experience, so another guy in the room that has been there and done it. Obviously, longevity in the game. He’s a guy that comes to play every night, so I think he’s going to check some boxes for us that will really help us. We lost some skill on the wings this year with Pacioretty and Dadonov, so it’s a guy that comes in and, his goal numbers weren’t probably as high as they’d been in the past last year, so we’ll make sure that he still has a shot mentality. His playmaking ability for us, we feel, is still elite.”
Kessel said he plans to make the most of whatever ice time he gets.
“I haven’t talked to [Cassidy] yet but I expect to have a big role here,” he said. “There’s a lot of great players there, I just want to fit in and obviously help as much as I can. I have a lot to prove from the last couple of years here. I don’t think I’ve changed much as a player. I expect to have a good year and help this team try to win.”
Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong told Sirius XM Radio on Aug. 6 that he believes Kessel would be an asset for an NHL team this season.
“He’s going to help some NHL team because he can still add points, he can add to a power play and his experience going into the playoffs and what he can offer,” Armstrong said. “He still has value in the NHL and I think at some point in time a team will sign him and get him in uniform because he’s got some great experience and he’s still got great legs under him. He’s going to help somebody.
“I didn’t know him before I came to Arizona (on Sept. 17, 2020) but I loved him, I loved his personality. The young guys on our team were just absolutely drawn to him. He’s somebody who has won a few Cups. He’s a funny guy, a unique guy in the way he approaches his life. But we loved him.”
NHL.com staff writers Tracey Myers and Jackie Spiegel and independent correspondent Dave McCarthy contributed to this report